We’re at a unique point in our histories right now – everything seems to be in an upheaval, and our nerves are frayed. Many of us are finally getting to a place that feels like a new normal, but there are still some things that are a challenge. One of the things I’ve seen to be true over the past few weeks is that a lot of people seem to be in a mad rush to make things happen. In many cases, that’s necessary – as things close, we have to make quick choices about how to work from home, how to help clients move entire businesses to remote working, how to suddenly adapt to working next to children and spouses and partners, how to identify the tricky legal issues that come with challenging economic times.
Whenever there is a rush like that, the idea of “care” can often become secondary. We get more terse in our replies in an effort to be more efficient and we forget that there are real, scared and anxious people at the other end of the phone or digital line, who are trying to manage as many plates and emotions as we are.
Today, I want to talk about one company that’s getting it really right, and use them as an example for lawyers and law firms in their own coronavirus client care. Let’s talk about Hello Fresh.
As a caveat, I’m a customer of theirs, and have been for several years. I’ve shopped around with a number of different meal delivery services, but I’ve found theirs to be my favorite, and their actions during the last few weeks have really cemented my customer loyalty – I’ll explain why. I’ll also add the further caveat that I realize that it’s a privilege to be able to afford and get a meal delivery service at a time like this, and one I don’t take lightly. It’s a luxury that I budget for because I live alone, work long hours and don’t have the energy to meal plan, and as a runner and a vegetarian, getting the right nutrition for my biggest meal is important to me. So, on to the story!
Early on, I had two primary concerns as a customer – food safety and the way that Hello Fresh were treating their employees during the virus. Many of us joked about how many emails we received from retailers over the first week or two of the “social distancing” orders, but if you’re ordering from a company, you want to know who you’re doing business with. Hello Fresh sent an email that cleared that up.
Lessons for Lawyers
By now, lawyers and law firms have already sent out emails to their clients, and the rest of their mailing lists, detailing the procedures that they have in place for firm continuity. However, if you haven’t yet, I would also call your key clients on the phone. We’ve addressed the idea of being the “signal among the noise,” and that is never more important than it is today. You may feel confident that you’ve comforted your clients with your explanation of how the firm is handling their files, what the courts are doing in your jurisdiction, and what they can expect for the recent legislation that’s been passed because you’ve continued to send out alerts, but your client probably received forty other emails just like that and is feeling overwhelmed. Call him or her, find out what their individual issues are and how you can help, and triage the important issues.
Consider sharing, too, information on how you’re handling your staffing at the moment – are there staff members who are considered essential and who remain in the office? How are they being protected? How are you staffing individual client matters differently to guard against any one team member getting sick and being unable to do client work? Obviously, the health and safety of your firm and your staff come first, but your clients will have these questions in the backs of their minds, and the more transparent you can be about these issues, the more at ease you can put them.
That initial email from Hello Fresh went a step further too, and shared their community work:
Finally, we believe deeply in giving back to the communities in which we live, work, and play. Since January 2020, we’ve donated more than 800,000 meals. During this time, our customers too have graciously donated an additional 30,000 meals. More recently, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve partnered with Julius Randle and Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks to donate 18,000 meals to City Harvest starting in April, which will help feed more than 370,000 New Yorkers. No matter the state of the world, we pledge—in all possible ways, big and small—to continue to support those in need.”
Lessons for lawyers
Share the big, and small, ways that your firm is participating in the community at this time – not because it makes you look good, but because it shows that the firm is invested in the community. Maybe lawyers in the firm are offering pro bono services to small businesses and entrepreneurs who have had to lay off staff because of widespread closures. Maybe the firm has invested in supporting local restaurants nearby by buying takeout for healthcare workers on the frontlines. Maybe the firm is in a hurricane zone, and already had a great deal of PPE stocked, which it has since donated to a local hospital. Maybe you’re starting a virtual race to raise money for the local hospital’s COVID-19 fund (that’s what I’m doing!). Not only does it show community investment and caring, it can encourage others to get involved themselves and it spreads something else – hope.
Last night, my weekly delivery of Hello Fresh didn’t arrive. I was a bit surprised, since not only did it not arrive, but I didn’t get an email about it, and couldn’t find an alert on my app to let me know of the delay. With everything going on, delays are to be expected, but a lack of communication can be disappointing. I had just finished saying as much to a friend of mine when an email arrived in my inbox, letting me know of the delay, apologizing, and telling me that there would be a $10 credit in my account for my trouble. I was really impressed by that level of customer service.
Lessons for lawyers
We’re all doing our best at the moment, but there’s going to be chaos at times, right? Things may get overlooked, emails may be delayed, we might not be as calm, cool and collected as we are hoping to be. We are fortunate to have the ability to apologize and to rectify the situation. While not every situation is fixable, we can do our best to delight our clients in some other way. And whether you’re trying to brighten a client’s day because you know they’ve been having a particularly rough few weeks, or you need to apologize to a colleague for dropping the ball on the follow up you promised, let’s all look for ways that we can bring some joy to someone else this week – that’s not me trying to be Pollyanna; that’s me pointing out that when things are hard, people remember the helpers and those who make them genuinely feel safe and better about what’s happening around them. I’ll also let you in on a secret – it will make you feel better too, to help someone else. Hello Fresh has taken a few small (and some big!) steps in the last three weeks, but those steps and two emails, have ensured that I’m now going to not only be a longtime customer, but also that I’ll be singing their praises from the rooftops. Isn’t that the kind of client loyalty that you want to be inspiring in YOUR clients?
I’ll leave you with a great excerpt from the ILN’s own Jim Flynn, of Epstein Becker Green – look for his blog post tomorrow on ILN IP Insider. Earlier this week, he wrote for Bloomberg Law Daily Labor Report, “INSIGHT: The Practice of Law in the Time of Covid-19” (read the whole thing, it’s excellent), and what he says for lawyers at this time is so poignant:
Teach clients to know what zealous advocacy is by always fulfilling the obligations of the oath that we take to our clients to advocate, especially at this difficult time, for them. But also teach our clients what it is not by never doing anything that would undermine the oath that we take ourselves as lawyers. Using current circumstances to extract unwarranted concessions or results is far beneath us or our clients. So too is taking unneeded consideration—if a Covid-19 closure, or illness of family member, truly prevented or delayed a due response, so be it: give and take the courtesies basic decency require.
But if the real reason that something is not done comes from basic procrastination or inattention (or if some added demand stems from a harsher opportunism) unrelated to current events, make sure these dire times are never just convenient makeweight excuses.
In the novel Love in the Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez writes, ‘Nobody teaches life anything.’ The great thing about fiction, of course, is that it can say the truest things. Though we teach life nothing, it teaches us everything, including the crash course recently on what matters most. In this crisis, our industry can exhibit the ideals that we should be most passionate about and known for, or it can recall for our society the worst images of our profession.
Be Optimistic and Do the Right Thing
It is an easy time for pessimism and slouching toward a comfortable baseness. Deny that tendency, as some have done to devote extended pro bono hours to Covid-19-related needs. Step away from the glumness of physical separation, as many have through client conference calls, Zoom coffee breaks and happy hours, and plain old-fashioned phone calls. Reject the negative traits that Dr. Larry Richard has found characterize the average ‘Lawyer Brain‘ in favor of the needed resilience he stresses. Keep a tough-minded optimism because:
- Life is tumultuous—an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory … Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle—endless and of uncertain outcome—isn’t more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.
[John Gardner, Personal Renewal]
Law in the time of Covid-19 is just that kind of world, and it needs resilient, optimistic lawyers to cope with it.”
Will you be those lawyers today?